The Dish Review

Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 4 DVD release of The Dish

July 1969. The whole world is waiting for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to set foot on the moon – and although they don’t know it they’re depending on an Australian radio telescope to bring them the television pictures of that one small step for man.

As Apollo 11 journeys towards the moon, back on Earth on a sheep farm in Australia a dedicated team headed by Sam Neill fight against the odds to ensure that the world isn’t disappointed – and the only thing in their way is the weather and a faulty uninterruptable power supply!

Things appear to be going to plan until an unexpected power cut puts the dish out of action and results in the loss of all of the flight data needed to locate Apollo 11 as it travels to the moon. This leads to some great comedy moments as the we see the crew trying their best to keep anyone from finding out – they even end up using their radio equipment to fake a conversation with the spacecraft.

While we already know that by the end of the story everything turns out OK, there are still plenty of tense moments as one thing after another goes wrong. This is one of the few films that’s effective even when you know the ending.

The Dish is a fairly unambitious film – it sets out to be a lighthearted telling of Australia’s role in the moon landings and on that score it certainly succeeds. It’s more a story of a group of people whose day-to-day lives become a key part of one of the most important achievements of the twentieth century. We get to see not only their roles as far as bringing the televised broadcast to the world, but also their family lives and relationships with others.

What we have is a feel-good film which can for the most part be enjoyed by everyone. There is a little bit of swearing which may need to be taken into account before letting any children watch – but seeing as it’s used sparingly and in context for the most part I doubt this will be a problem.

Sam Neill puts in a good, if understated, performance as Cliff Buxton, the man whose future is on the line as the leader of the team. Kevin Harrington is the NASA specialist sent to oversee the Australian end of the operation and to ensure that things go to plan. I think it’s safe to say that the whole cast are convincing in their roles.

The Dish is a film I’d recommend to anyone who is looking for nothing more than some light entertainment to pass a couple of hours. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but as a film it easily achieves what it sets out to do – and does it with style.

The DVD is quite impressive given the rather low-key release the film has recently received on the UK cinema cicuit. The picture transfer is pretty flawless – there are as usual some noticeable specks on the print and some minor damage but nothing that really detracts. The actual picture is very sharp with superb colour rendition making it a joy to watch.

The one fly in the ointment is that there is very slight banding in some blocks of colour in the opening scenes. Nothing too noticeable but it is there.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is used to good effect. There isn’t a lot in the way of directional speaker action, but for general atmosphere it’s very effective. The wind and its effects on the dish are captured well with creaking sounds coming from all around. There isn’t very much bass used – but when used it is fairly effective and low-key.

Now onto the extras – there’s a lot more than listed on the box. It’s only since I sat down to do this review that I realised how much there is actually is.

There are two commentary tracks on the disc. The first is by director Rob Sitch and second unit director Santo Cilauro. This focusses (unsurprisingly) on the directing and earlier concepts of the film including the choice of locations and storyboarding. It’s interesting just how many scenes are based upon Sitch’s memories – not only of the Apollo landings but other child-hood events. As always theres some redundance in what is said – stating the obvious is common in all commentaries and while this one doesn’t suffer too greatly it’s still noticeable at times. All in all it’s pretty interesting – maybe one you’re more likely to dip in and out of rather than be glued to all the way through.

The second commentary is by Jane Kennedy and Tom Gleisner and mainly looks at the casting, score and archival footage. Again it’s another dipper – not really something you’re likely to listen to all the way through although there are loads of little incites which do make it worth watching in it’s entirety if you do get the chance.

‘The Dish on The Dish’ is a short eleven-minute featurette on the antenna featured in the film and includes interviews with key crew members.

We have a selection of pieces of archive footage which couldn’t be integrated into the film. There’s the choice to watch this either with or with out a commentary by Rob Sitch.

‘Hidden Dish’ is a ‘White Rabbit-esque’ feature which is present during the montage of archive footage at the start of the film. By enabling this you can have access to textual of what actually makes up the montage of footage.

Two more Apollo-related features are the Apollo 11 diary which includes both text entries for the duration of the flight along with snippets of radio communication between the Apollo crew and Earth. The other is a selection of key dates in mankinds first journeys into space. To round off there’s a selection of trailers – one theatrical, two TV spots and finally a bonus trailer for ‘The Castle’. We also have a selection of biographies, storyboards and a stills gallery.

As a package The Dish delivers on pretty much all counts. The film is certainly worth a watch, picture and sound are great if not spectacular and the selection of extras is well rounded with not too much in the way of fluff.

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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